The Lucky Ones: Dolores and John Groves-Marshall
Dolores Groves-Marshall says there is no profound reason for her decision to adopt children with disabilities, but that may be because the decision was made so long ago, now it feels obvious.
When she was 12-years-old, Dolores declared to her family, and anybody who would listen, that she was going to adopt children when she grew up.
“People rolled their eyes at me,” she said from her home in Killeen, Texas. Now 30, she is mother of three children. She and her husband John, 38, adopted them all from foster care. “They said I was too young to think about stuff like that, and that there was a lot of time before then.”
But adoption wasn't just a passing interest. From a young age Dolores developed a keen eye for injustice and looking out for those who cannot look out for themselves. Sometimes bullied and excluded because she is biracial – her mother is white, her father is black, and her step-father is white – she didn't always feel like she fit in at school. Her sister has cerebral palsy, so she was raised to see people with disabilities as different but no different than anybody else. For her, adopting Kimi, Levi, and now another 4-year-old girl, is more than doing her part, it is a fulfillment of a dream.
“It's the most rewarding thing I've ever done,” she said of adoption. “I wouldn't know what to do with myself if I didn't do this.”
Something That We Do
Dolores can track back the decision to put off giving birth in favor of adoption to an encounter in elementary school. She describes herself as a typical school girl, who had already decided on the names of her future children.
She told another girl the names she had picked out.
“My kids will probably already have names,” the girl told Dolores. She said there were many children in the child welfare system who needed homes, and the girl planned to adopt.
“I certainly felt selfish,” Dolores said, noting that although she ended up adopting the girl who introduced her to the idea did not.
She kept thinking about it over the years, and she began to realize how many members of her family had been adopted. “I counted them up one time, and it is like 13 or 14 people,” Dolores said. “I thought, this is apparently something that we do.”
Starting Their Family
By coincidence, all Dolores and John's children will soon be 4 years old.
Kimi came first, placed in April, 2010 at 19 months old. Although she was below the age group Dolores and John had been considering, when the couple saw her picture they fell in love. She turns 5 in September. She was born with genetic syndromes – 22Q 11.2 deletion syndrome and 16p duplication syndrome that render her partially deaf and she is presently nonverbal due to childhood apraxia of speech. She now knows more than 250 signs in American Sign Language.
Next was Levi, who arrived in October, 2012. Dolores said he was a perfectly silent child. He suffered from shaken baby syndrome and had multiple brain surgeries and very little exposure to other people. At first he bit Dolores and struck Kimi, but over time he began talking and now reads and is very affectionate.
“He was considered slow when we got him, now he is considered advanced,” Dolores said. Levi turns 4 this month and his adoption was finalized last month.
The latest addition to the family was born premature in Washington State and arrived in June; she is 4 years old. Her adoption has not been finalized so her name cannot be published. She had a stroke as an infant after severe drug and alcohol exposure in the womb, causing her to be born at 24 weeks. She wasn't walking, and used a wheelchair. She started taking her first steps two weeks before she was placed with Dolores and John.
“We left the wheelchair in Washington,” Dolores said. “She walks with a limp, but she walks, and continues to walk. No more wheelchair, and we are very proud of her.”
Remarkably, the family all looks alike, Dolores said, and strangers at first assume they are the couple's birth children.
“They say if you feed them, they start to look like you,” she said.
They Need All of You
During their courtship, Dolores made it clear to John that she intended to adopt. John, who has a 14-year-old daughter from a previous relationship, was immediately on board.
“People think that it's me,” Dolores said. “People actually ask me, 'How does your husband deal with your adoptions?' My adoptions? He's the driving force behind this.”
For his part, John said he would have brought it up if Dolores hadn't. He is also interested in adopting another child. “I still don't feel like we're done yet, but she says we are,” he said. The couple has been together for 10 years, and celebrates their six-year wedding anniversary this month.
Although John is open to the idea of more adoptions, Dolores said she wants to be able to give each child the attention they deserve. “These children need all of you,” she said. “These children are going to do something with their lives.”
Who is the Lucky One?
Dolores explored several health care careers, including school to become a physician and a nurse. But the idea that stuck came while eavesdropping on a plane ride home from her grandmother's funeral. The woman seated behind her was talking about her job, pediatric occupational therapist.
“I went home and Googled it and then went to grad school for it,” she said.
One might think her children got lucky being matched with a mother who is professionally trained to help children navigate disabilities, but that's not how she sees it.
“I got lucky getting them as children,” she said. “It teaches you a lot about love, about the world, about doing what is right and defending people, and a lot about yourself. It makes you want to be a better person every day.”
'These Are My Own'
Dolores and her children get stares when in public, but that doesn't bother her. And she forgives people's first impressions, partly because the disability of her newest daughter is apparent. That isn't the case with Kimi.
“With Kimi you can't see her disabilities,” Dolores said.
“Lots of people are just curious,” she said. “I don't mind that at all, I welcome questions.” She usually breaks the ice with a joke, and because of her experience in the medical field she explains that Kimi has genetic syndromes that makes her non-verbal, prone to making noises and repetitive hand movements, and often loud and hyper.
That doesn't stop people from making assumptions about Kimi, or Dolores' skill as a parent. She has been chastised, and Kimi has been called a “monster child.” Although she can handle those situations, she worries not about her own feelings, but how the world will judge her daughter.
“I had to buck up for her, and teach her to buck up,” she said.
On the other hand, Levi has exceeded early expectations about his development, and instead of special education his parents are considering advanced classes.
“I either get called 'Mom of the Year,' or 'Worst Mom of the Year,' depending on which child they are judging me on,” she said.
What gets under her skin, however, is when people assume she and John adopted because they could not have “their own.” “Actually I can,” she said. “And these are my own, they are very much my own.”
One to Carry on the Tradition
Now Dolores and John are discussing the prospect of having a biological child.
The decision to adopt was not rushed, but it also did not come because the couple is unable to have biological children.
In fact, Dolores wants to give birth. She wants to have the experience. She also thinks about the future, and about who will be there to look out for his or her three older siblings when she and John grow old. But that isn't the only reason though.
“I want to put one into the world, to teach compassion to, and to carry on the work of helping others,” she said.
AdoptUSKids is a service of the U.S. Children’s Bureau and has been in operation since 2002 by the Adoption Exchange Association under a cooperative agreement (grant #90CQ0003). The mission of AdoptUSKids is two-fold: to raise public awareness about the need for foster and adoptive families for children in the public child welfare system; and to assist U.S. States, Territories, and Tribes to recruit and retain foster and adoptive families and connect them with children.